WeAreDePaul.com Bubble Report - 2/27/06

WeAreDePaul.com's Mike Adam looks at the weekend's events in College Hoops.

Boy, what a chaotic weekend. Some things started to come into focus, and others got completely mucked up. Some conferences are done with their regular seasons, which means they drift off to post-season play. Other conferences have one more week. It's time to sprint to the finish.

Before we get rolling, I want to get into something that Jay Bilas was discussing in advance of Saturday's games. It was running on the Friday night/Saturday morning SportsCenters. He made a comment about the Missouri Valley and how he felt the conference was a bit inflated because quite a few of the teams entered conference play with Top 50 RPI ranks. Most of the Top 50 wins the teams have are because the teams are beating each other.

Does Bilas not realize the hypocrisy of this statement? Jay, this has been the M. O. for the BCS conferences forever! That's why many of the teams in these conferences schedule a bunch of cupcakes in the non-conference season, because they know their RPI ranks will rise once they enter conference play, no matter who they play. Now the parameters for calculating the RPI have changed, and the Missouri Valley and the Colonial get to be the beneficiaries of this phenomenon. Good for them. Why does that make their ranks inflated? It's almost as if some color analysts just can't believe that a mid-major team can be as good as a BCS team.

This year's selection and performance of the mid-majors in regards to the NCAA Tournament is going to bear some very careful watching. As of this morning, 11 mid-major teams reside inside the RPI Top 50. (These numbers exclude Gonzaga, WAC teams, Mountain West teams, and A-10 teams.) Will all 11 make it in? It's likely three will get automatic bids by winning the conference tourneys (Bucknell, the Valley winner, and the Colonial winner). So how many of the other eight will make it? If most do, that will show that the Committee is serious about the RPI rank changes they made two seasons ago. If most do not, then that would indicate to me that the Selection Committee doesn't buy the numbers, and the RPI rank adjustment for road victories was moot.

From a performance perspective, let's say the floodgates open, and all these mid-majors get invited. If they collectively fall flat on their faces, it may be the impetus for what bluedemon211 discussed on Friday – that the formula needs to be adjusted a bit more, because the wrong teams are getting into the Tournament. However, if they perform well (especially against their BCS counterparts), that may show the Committee that the adjustment is working and that the right teams are, in fact, getting in.

It makes for interesting watching, one way or the other.

BIG EAST Scores

Connecticut 89, Villanova 76. The two conference heavyweights split their season series, with each winning on their home court. So what does this prove? Well, nothing, since any future match-ups between the two this season will be played on a neutral court.

Marquette 80, Notre Dame 72. I suppose the bright side for Notre Dame (13-12, 4-10, RPI: 98 ) is that at least this one didn't come down to a last shot. The Golden Gold (18-8, 9-5, RPI: 18 ) continue to roll on to the NCAA Tournament.

Georgetown 68, Syracuse 53. So what is the Committee going to do with Syracuse? (19-9, 7-7, RPI: 28 ) On the one hand, they have a solid RPI rank, and can get to 20 wins and assure themselves of a .500 record in conference if they beat DePaul. Of their nine losses, eight of them have come against the RPI Top 40. On the other hand, they have lost seven of their last 11 games, and five of those losses have come by 13 points or more. They're feeling like an #8-#9 game participant to me right now.

West Virginia 68, Louisville 64. A 5-11 initial conference season is looking like a sincere possibility for the Cardinals (17-10, 5-9, RPI: 71). All at-large consideration went out the window a long time ago. The Pittsnogles (18-8, 10-4, RPI: 27), on the other side, stop their three-game losing streak.

Pittsburgh 81, Providence 68. Even though they beat DePaul twice this year, I have yet to figure out anything interesting to say about Providence (12-13, 5-9, RPI: 94). They're probably the most non-descript team in the entire conference. The Wannstedts (21-4, 10-4, RPI: 7) used this as a tune-up for their battle with West Virginia tonight.

Rutgers 62, South Florida 44. See, at least Rutgers (15-12, 6-9, RPI: 96) has an interesting player in Quincy Douby. And they have an interesting situation going on with their coach. Providence can't say the same in either case. With the win, the Scarlet Knights take another step in advancing to New York. South Florida (6-21, 0-14, RPI: 251) hasn't won a game since December 23.

ACC Scores of Bubble Relevance

Clemson 90, Virginia 64. Lose by 14 at Florida State, then win by 14 at home versus Boston College, then lose by 26 at Clemson? No, Virginia (14-11, 7-7, RPI: 68 ) is not squarely on the bubble. They're an NIT team who's had a couple of good nights. They may finish .500 in conference, but they're still an NIT team. And that will be a dent in the pride of all the ACC apologists who think that .500 in their conference automatically warrants an NCAA bid.

North Carolina 81, Maryland 57. No matter how much I try to nip this in the bud, at least one of the ACC bubble teams is going to have a good final week and get everyone revved up about a possible fifth bid from the conference. Why? Because they all play each other. Don't get fooled. This is a four-bid conference. Maryland (15-11, 6-8, RPI: 51) looked awful in this effort, and they've lost seven of their last nine. They are not NCAA bound.

Big 10 Scores of Bubble Relevance

Indiana 78, Michigan State 71. The Hoosiers (15-10, 7-7, RPI: 45) are not dead yet. They pretty much have no margin for error, but they're not dead yet. By the way, would someone please get Gus Johnson a sedative? As the crowd stood up at a critical juncture in the game, Johnson screamed, "This is Big Ten basketball!" He called Assembly Hall the "Carnegie Hall of Basketball". (I don't even know what that means.) And he started on a soliloquy shortly after the conclusion in admiration Mike Davis for the work he did at Indiana – which is really strange since Indiana still has at least three games left. And I only watched the last ten minutes of the game. What did he say during the first hour and a half?

SEC Scores of Bubble Relevance

Arkansas 73, Tennessee 69. FINALLY, Arkansas (19-8, 8-6, RPI: 46) gets its marquee win, and now we have to start talking about them as likely "in" the Tournament. They finish with two winnable games against Mississippi State and Georgia. Twenty-one wins with ten in conference are plenty for an NCAA berth.

LSU 71, Kentucky 67. So where is Kentucky (18-10, 8-6, RPI: 42) right now? In the Tournament? Out of the Tournament? I have no idea. I was a little surprised at how big of a deal ESPN made about this game. It's not like this was an unexpected result to anyone who's been watching college basketball all season. LSU is a better team, and they took care of business at home. Kentucky gets another chance to score a big win by traveling to Tennessee on Wednesday. I'm guessing the folks in Knoxville won't be feeling too hospitable, though, especially after Arkansas' win there.

Alabama 82, Florida 77. We can probably take Alabama's (16-10, 9-5, RPI: 36) name off the board as a team on the bubble. This win probably pushed them into the Tournament. Meanwhile, if you're looking for a team ripe for the upset in your Tournament brackets, the Gators (22-6, 8-6, RPI: 33) might fit the bill. To me, they feel like a #6 seed right now. I would love to see one of the mid-majors slotted against them.

Big XII Scores of Bubble Relevance

Texas 80, Kansas 55. I don't think this result will ultimately jeopardize Kansas' (19-7, 11-3, RPI: 44) chances because it's pretty clear they're one of the three best teams in this league. But getting blown out on national television falls under the C&C Music Factory heading of "Things That Make You Go Hmmm…"

Colorado 78, Missouri 60. This game was akin to DePaul beating Tulane in the Conference USA Tournament last year. It adds a win to the overall total for Colorado (18-7, 8-6, RPI: 48 ), but it really does nothing for their profile. The money shot is Wednesday at Allen Fieldhouse. Beat Kansas at Kansas, and the Buffaloes are likely in the Tournament.

Texas A&M 66, Nebraska 55. For those of you scoring at home, please note that I'm writing this blurb under protest. Texas A&M (18-7, 8-6, RPI: 57) is the fifth team above .500 in the conference, but that's more due to math than talent. They're the least bad of the remaining teams outside Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas and Colorado, and someone has to be over .500. But the Aggies are going to show up on bubble analyses all over the place today, mainly due to them having a game at Texas this week. It's been a while since I made a Flava Flav reference in the Report, but "don't believe the hype". A&M is going to the NIT. (I'm just a fountain of song lyrics in this section today.)

Pac-10 Scores of Bubble Relevance

Washington 73, California 62. The best thing Cal (17-8, 11-5, RPI: 59) has going for it is its place in the conference standings – currently, tied for second. That's in the atmosphere of the "locks" in the conference, UCLA, Washington and Arizona. But if they slip to fourth or worse, they start to give the Selection Committee a reason to keep them out. The last two games are at home, but it's against the alphabet soup from Southern California, UCLA and USC. Both are capable of winning at Cal and making the Bears' life difficult.

Missouri Valley Scores of Bubble Relevance

Conference Tournament Preview: All right, here it is. The "March to the Arch" is complete, and all the teams will be assembling in St. Louis later this week. So here's how everything shook out, and I'm not sure it could have ended up screwier:

Wichita State is the #1 seed and will play the Drake-Indiana State winner. The Shockers are playing for NCAA Tournament seeding right now.

Somehow, Southern Illinois wrangled the #2 seed and will be playing the Illinois State-Evansville winner. I don't think the quarterfinal game goes in the "optional" category for the Salukis. They need to win it. After that…? Who knows?

Missouri State and Northern Iowa play in one quarterfinal, and UNI's doomsday scenario came to fruition on Saturday. They're seeded #6, which optically looks horrible. Who needs this game more? I don't know, actually. It's hard to say Missouri State needs it more, because they're the higher seed here and theoretically had the better conference season than UNI. It's hard to say UNI needs it more, because even though they've been in free-fall the last two weeks, they still have very shiny wins over Iowa and LSU on their resume.

That leaves one of the most intriguing quarterfinal match-ups you might see anywhere this conference tournament season: Creighton vs. Bradley. Creighton is the "big dog" when it comes to this Tournament, winning five of the last seven. If they beat Bradley, it's likely they've earned their Dance ticket. On the other hand, if Bradley beats Creighton, would THAT be enough for the Braves? My guess is probably not. However, if they can then beat Wichita State in the semi-finals, I think they've played their way in.

Whew.

Southern Illinois 46, Northern Iowa 45. As you could see above, the implications of Tony Young's eight-footer with seven seconds to play were huge. It's created the very odd situation of the #2 seed, Southern Illinois (19-9, 12-6, RPI: 41) with a worse overall record and RPI rank than the #6 seed, Northern Iowa (20-8, 11-7, RPI: 31). My head is still spinning, and I still need a life.

Missouri State 60, Creighton 54. Missouri State (20-7, 12-6, RPI: 20) is 8-1 in their last nine games, with the only loss a two-point decision in Carbondale. And they'll have the highest RPI rank in the conference going into the conference tournament. If Arkansas keeps rolling, the Bears are the biggest beneficiary, since that's the only RPI Top 100 team out of conference MSU played. Creighton (19-8, 12-6, RPI: 32), as I mentioned above, likely has a little work to do in St. Louis at the "Dana Altman Invitational". They're certainly ready for "grind it out" basketball – their last nine games have all been decided by eight points or less.

Bradley 86, Drake 66. I don't know if Bradley (18-9, 11-7, RPI: 43) thinks margin of victory is in the RPI, but after scorching Northern Iowa by 22, the Braves had a 31-point lead AT HALFTIME over Dr. Tom Davis' crew. In fact, none of their last six wins have been by fewer than 12 points. Boy, have they become an intriguing story, or what?

Wichita State 64, Illinois State 57. The Shockers (22-7, 14-4, RPI: 24) are the one team who gets to be above this entire fray. They're playing with house money in St. Louis, and after all was said and done, they actually ended up winning this conference by two full games – mighty impressive. An unexpected loss in the quarters would just ding their NCAA seeding; it won't ding their inclusion. After last year's collapse, I'm not sure Shocker fans would care too much.

Colonial Athletic Scores of Bubble Relevance

Conference Tournament Preview: By virtue of tie-breaker, it's slightly unheralded UNC-Wilmington who gets the #1 seed in the conference tournament. George Mason gets the #2, and Hofstra gets the #3, which puts them on a collision course in the semi-finals. So let's play a scenario out: UNC-W beats Hofstra in the finals, and Hofstra beat George Mason to get there. George Mason is an at-large lock – I have to believe their win at Wichita State put them there. UNC-W gets in via the automatic bid. Where does that leave Hofstra? Do they get in? To get to the semi-finals, they will likely have to beat potential spoiler VCU, who is sitting in the #6 seed, then George Mason for the second time in two weeks. They'd have 24 overall wins, a non-conference win of note at St. John's (don't forget, Pittsburgh lost there), and an RPI rank that would probably settle around 40. I'd give them a "yes" for inclusion, which would make…three teams from the Colonial?

George Mason 95, James Madison 68. So I'm guessing the Patriots (22-6, 15-3, RPI: 23) were pretty upset about losing at Hofstra earlier in the week. As I mentioned, I do believe George Mason is a lock, but a win over the Drexel-Delaware winner would certainly make life easier on Selection Sunday.

UNC-Wilmington 68, Georgia State 56. Random weird blurb-writing moment: I felt compelled to look up to see if Georgia was one of the original 13 colonies, or else their inclusion in the "Colonial" conference wouldn't make any sense. To the delight of history teachers everywhere, yes, it was. Now, the next challenge is to explain why Saint Louis is in the "Atlantic 10". And why that conference is even more wrong than the Big 10, since the A-10 actually now has 14 members, although nobody seems to care because the Atlantic 10/14 sucks. Elementary school teachers everywhere must hate college basketball. I'm writing all this because I have nothing meaningful to say about the actual game, other than congratulations to the Seahawks (22-7, 15-3, RPI: 37) for corralling the #1-seed in this tournament.

Hofstra 70, Drexel 68. The only reason the above conference tournament scenario is available is because Hofstra (22-5, 14-4, RPI: 38 ) survived a three-point miss at the buzzer by Drexel. A win's a win, though. Speaking of Drexel, what happened to them? Remember when everyone was toasting them when they gave Duke and UCLA fits in Madison Square Garden? Now they're an #8 seed in the conference tournament.

Other Scores of Bubble Relevance

Bucknell 70, Army 47. Congratulations to the Bison (22-4, 14-0, RPI: 40), who finished the conference season undefeated. No congratulations to whomever the play-by-play guy was during the Northern Iowa-Southern Illinois game (I want to say it was Dave O'Brien, but I don't want to accuse if it wasn't him) who referred to them as the "Bisons" three different times during the telecast.

UAB 73, SMU 68. The Memphis Tigers are coming to Birmingham on Thursday night. UAB (19-5, 10-2, RPI: 52), this might be your season we're talking about here.

Nevada 75, Utah State 57. Well, something got cleared up. Nevada (21-5, 11-3, RPI: 21) is going to win the WAC and go to the NCAAs as an at-large, no matter what. Utah State (18-7, 9-5, RPI: 49) likely sealed their fate of having to win the conference tournament to get included.

Air Force 68, New Mexico 55. With carnage all around them, the Falcons (21-5, 11-4, RPI: 39) continue their (very slow) ascent up the RPI ranks. I think they're in the Tournament, but I'd like their chances better if they could finish first in the Mountain West, which hinges on a San Diego State loss on Wednesday versus Wyoming, or if they had a more credible non-conference resume.

BYU 81, TCU 72. By virtue of having roughly the same RPI rank as San Diego State, I feel obligated to write a little about BYU (17-7, 10-4, RPI: 56). Third place in the Mountain West equals no at-large bid. There, I wrote a little.

San Diego State 73, New Mexico 66. The Aztecs (17-8, 12-3, RPI: 58 ) have exactly one thing going for them – they lead the Mountain West. Beat Wyoming at home, and they win the conference outright. Should they do that, I still think they'd need to go all the way to the conference tourney finals to get serious at-large consideration, but it's a possibility.

Interesting Score of Note

Stanford 39, Washington State 37. I think I'm becoming borderline obsessed with Washington State, who has now scored 41 or fewer points in four of their last six games. I think the AP writers for the Pac-10 have no idea what to make of them, either. Here's your fun fact from the game story: "Washington State had not lost a game with so few points allowed since losing 37-36 at Washington in 1969-70." Hmm…given that they just lost to Cal 43-41 on Thursday, could they have used this same statistic in the story two days earlier?

Let's go, Demons.

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